A Game 2 loss to Pittsburgh in the opening round opened the door for some nervous feelings but the Senators responded with a huge Game 3 win before walking away with the series. A Game 2 loss at New Jersey in the second round was followed with a three straight Ottawa wins. And when Buffalo began believing in the potential of a miracle comeback in the Eastern Conference final, the Sens snuffed it out right away with a huge overtime win in Game 5.
“Adversity has been the strength of this team all year,” Senators star centre Jason Spezza said Tuesday after practice. “As soon as we’ve felt adversity, felt like our backs were against the wall, we’ve brought our best.
“And I don’t anticipate tomorrow being any different.”
The Sens’ confidence doesn’t appear shaken heading into Wednesday night’s second game of the Stanley Cup final against the Anaheim Ducks.
“I think they were all upset,” said head coach Bryan Murray. “As I said to them today, this is the Stanley Cup final. This is the time to meet challenges.”
Murray met with his players before practice and delivered his message. It was a one-sided conversation.
“We had a good meeting this morning,” said Spezza. “Bryan did most of the talking and we did most of the listening.”
The reasons for Monday’s clunker are varied, with the nine-day layoff a leading factor. The Sens looked flat, nothing like the high-flying club that went 12-3 in the opening three rounds. They were also sloppy, committing 14 turnovers to Anaheim’s five.
“We stunk,” Sens GM John Muckler said flatly.
The Ducks know that wasn’t the same Ottawa team they’ve been studying on video.
“They did some things uncharacteristic of the previous three series that they played,” said Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle.
“We think that we had something to do with that obviously. But we know that we’re going to have to play a better game than we played last night to have success, because I know in our minds they will come a lot harder and they will be a lot better.”
There’s nowhere to go but up for Ottawa’s top line of Spezza, Daniel Alfredsson and Dany Heatley. They were a non-factor in Game 1. Spezza, in particular, drew the ire of Murray during the game with a few fancy plays – drop passes – that were intercepted for turnovers.
When asked by a reporter who was looking for an answer about Spezza’s tremendous development this year, Murray couldn’t resist.
“Well, he used to play like he played last night,” he said to a room full of laughter. “… I think he’s improved his game immensely. I’m not sure why it happened the way it did last night, whether it was the first game in the final, whether it was being off that long time, whether it was a variety of reasons.”
Alfredsson called his star linemates in for a little three-man pep talk Monday night to make sure things would be much better in Game 2.
“It felt like after the game we made it too easy for them by not getting the puck in deep and working their D more,” said Alfredsson. “We acknowledged it after the game, we talked about it, the three of us. And I’m sure we’ll play smarter and be better tomorrow.”
The temptation for Murray will be to break up his top line if the matchup with Anaheim’s terrific checking line, centered by Rob Niedermayer, doesn’t go any better going forward.
“Here’s the decision I had last night,” said Murray. “Our top line played so well in every series so far. I get into the first period or second period, see they’re not going as good as they should be, do I, because of that, break them up in the first chance I get and then kind of show panic?
“So I decided, ‘stick with them, let them play.’ … I’ve got to allow them at least some time to have that challenge.”
Murray also hopes his star forwards will be allowed to strut their stuff. For the second day in a row, the Senators coach questioned the non-calls on what he perceived was obstruction against his forwards from the Anaheim defencemen as they tried to go in the zone.
“I guess, we’ll have to adjust our style to get back to holding up their forechecker better with our man, because it’s obvious that it’s not being called,” said Murray. “And we have to encourage our guys to do it.”
Murray said he planned to bring it up with the series supervisor.
“I think the rules have to be made clear to me,” said Murray.